When he first established Coffee Lodge, Leo Stathakis was inspired by trips he had made to small coffee houses in Seattle, Vancouver and Michigan. “I’ve always loved coffee and coffee houses. I would often venture out in Detroit to visit all the old coffee houses. I loved the coffee and the atmosphere, and always thought it would be great to have something like that in Sarnia,” Stathakis explains.
Stathakis opened the first location on Exmouth Street in the spring of 2000. The Duty Free location opened in 2002, then a few years after that they opened on Finch Drive and in Lambton Mall, and they recently expanded into Petrolia. “We started in Sarnia and are proud to be a Lambton County original,” he says.
As he was preparing to open the first location, Stathakis worked on two aspects of the business at the same time: how the store was going to look and feel, and what would be served. He had a very specific vision for the design. “I always wanted it to have a really Canadian feel to it,” he explains. “I was inspired by a trip I took out west. I loved Banff and Jasper and that’s what inspired Coffee Lodge. I purchased a number of art deco posters from the Banff Springs Hotel. The colours came right from the poster and we built the fireplace to match.”
Stathakis travelled to Seattle and learned from the best about roasting coffee and the West Coast coffee tradition. “I met John Rufino, a Toronto-based roaster known as one of the top roasters in North America. John created our first custom blend, the Lodge Dark Roast. John remains our principle roaster, although we now source from several other specialty Canadian micro-roasters.” One of his favourite parts of the job is tasting coffee with Tim Gerbrandt, Coffee Lodge’s Specialty Beverage Manager, and the other staff. They all enjoy tasting the specialty roasts. “We often receive small batches from specialty roasters and we run them as the featured coffee of the day. We have a guiding principal to be different and unique.”
Alongside their drinks, Coffee Lodge serves a fresh menu of soups, salads, wraps, sandwiches and baked goods. “Donna, Coffee Lodge food manager, has been with us for fifteen years. She’s in there every morning baking muffins, cookies and scones. Our menu is a simple but fresh, chef-inspired selection that has made lunch the busiest time of the day at Coffee Lodge.” Catering is a large part of their business. They cater events from small office meetings, breakfasts and lunches, to picnics and medium-sized weddings.
Coffee Lodge remains committed to offering a great experience. As part of their coffee house concept, they offer live entertainment and often sponsor community events in the store like the adult colouring group that comes in on Mondays and Wednesdays. “People want a place to meet and connect with others. We’ve always been here to provide a space.”